Openreach ups pace of copper network switch-off

UK’s largest broadband provider maintains pace of digital network transformation adding nearly 100 locations to its roster of communications exchanges that are now able to offer digital comms based on full-fibre networks

With the 2025 deadline looming to upgrade its network to digital services over a full-fibre connection, the UK’s leading broadband provider, Openreach, has announced a further 84 new exchange locations, covering more than 880,000 premises across the UK, where it will cease offering traditional copper-based phone and broadband services.

The background to the move is that the BT-owned company believes legacy network skills and parts are increasingly difficult to come by, and new digital services such as Voice over IP (VoIP), video conferencing and a whole range of apps have become more popular and effective for people communicating with one another.

Openreach regards the shift from copper to fibre networks as every bit as significant as the move from analogue to digital and black and white TV to colour. By eventually retiring analogue phone lines, it said it will create a simplified network that allows it to meet the enhanced needs of an increasingly digital society.

To realise its plan on a national basis, BT is in the process of transitioning more than 14 million traditional lines across the UK onto digital services. Following the decision to shut down the PSTN, it was agreed to test processes for migrating customers to fibre services and, ultimately, withdraw legacy copper services and the wholesale line rental products that rely on them.

To realise its ambitions, Openreach said it will be upgrading just under nine million remaining analogue lines, including the now ageing traditional landline telephone service, to new digital ones.

In practical terms, the company’s Stop Sell process is triggered when a majority (75%) of premises connected to a particular exchange can get a full-fibre connection. Customers who then want to switch, upgrade or re-grade their broadband or phone service will have to take a new digital service over Openreach’s full-fibre network.

As copper’s ability to support modern communications declines, the immediate focus is getting people onto newer, future-proofed technologies
James Lilley, Openreach

Openreach has already been implementing a UK-wide Stop Sell on sales of new analogue wholesale line rental and related broadband ISP products. The business is giving communications providers (CPs) such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone, which all use its network, a year’s notice that it will no longer be selling legacy analogue products and services in these circumstances.

Openreach calculates that by summer 2024, the Stop Sell rules will have been activated in more than 700 exchanges. This would mean there would be around six million premises, where full-fibre is available to three-quarters of businesses and homes, and so new copper products could not be sold. The 84 new exchanges added to the programme cover all four nations in the UK, encompassing rural communities and conurbations, as well as areas of large cities such as Glasgow, Manchester and Sheffield.

Commenting on the new roll-out, James Lilley, Openreach’s managed customer migrations manager, said: “We’re moving to a digital world and Openreach is helping with that transformation by rolling out ultrafast, ultra-reliable and future-proofed digital full-fibre across the UK. This game-changing technology will become the backbone of our economy for decades to come, supporting every aspect of our public services, businesses, industries and daily lives.

“Already, our full-fibre network is available to close to 14 million homes and businesses, with more than four million premises currently taking a service. Taking advantage of the progress of our full-fibre build and encouraging people to upgrade where a majority can access our new network is the right thing to do as it makes no sense, both operationally and commercially, to keep the old copper network and our new fibre network running side-by-side. As copper’s ability to support modern communications declines, the immediate focus is getting people onto newer, future-proofed technologies.”

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